Fears grow for British man detained in Pakistan-administered Kashmir


Intl desk, Nov 13: There are growing concerns for the wellbeing of a British man facing up to three years in jail for taking down a Pakistani flag from a public square in Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

Tanveer Ahmed Rafique, a 48-year-old activist who has called for the disputed region to be granted independence from both Pakistan and India, was detained in August in the city of Dadyal. His wife told the BBC he has held a number of hunger strikes in protest at being denied bail and had become “extremely weak”.

Fareezam Rajput said she believes Pakistan’s intelligence agencies are pressuring the courts to continue to keep her husband in detention.

Police files show Mr Rafique has been accused of “unauthorisedly removing the National Flag of Pakistan”. Officials in Pakistani-administered Kashmir insist the courts are free from interference and due process is being followed.

Responding to a letter from one of Mr Rafique’s freinds , who raised the case with him in his capacity as their local MP, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he shared concerns about the “reported appalling treatment” of Mr Rafique and promised to raise it with the UK Foreign Office.

Mr Rafique was born in Pakistani-administered Kashmir but moved to the UK as a young child. In 2005, he travelled back to Kashmir to spend time with his grandmother and eventually left his job in finance to settle permanently in the region. Control of Kashmir is split between Pakistan and India, which have fought a number of wars and smaller conflicts over the region. Both countries lay claim to Kashmir in its entirety.

Mr Rafique, however, is part of a movement calling for a completely independent, united Kashmir. His wife told the BBC he was initially attracted to the cause after realising how difficult it was for his family in Pakistani-administered Kashmir to visit their relatives in Indian-administered Kashmir. “He thought, this used be one state and it shouldn’t be divided,” she said.

But Mr Rafique’s peaceful activism attracted the attention of the authorities. Ms Rajput, his wife, told the BBC he had once previously been extrajudicially detained by the Pakistani military for three days before the British High Commission intervened. Mr Rafique’s younger sister Asma, who lives in London, told the BBC her brother was warned by intelligence agents that if he did not stop his activities, “nobody would ever hear of him or see him again”. The Pakistani military did not respond to a request to comment.

India-administered Kashmir has witnessed years of mass protests as well as a long running violent insurgency against Indian rule, with security forces accused of widespread human rights abuses. The dispute stems from the division of Pakistan and India in 1947. Tensions flared most recently when India revoked the special, more autonomous status of Kashmir last year.

Pakistani-administered Kashmir has not seen similar levels of unrest, and Pakistani officials frequently call for Kashmiris to be given the right of self-determination. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has described himself as a global ambassador for the Kashmiri cause, repeatedly demanding a plebiscite be held across Kashmir to decide its future in line with UN resolutions.

Source: News Agencies